In my other day job that actually pays a few bills (unlike, at the moment, this WestVirginiaVille “labor of craft”) I toil happily as a Design Team member with Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, part of a team of creatives put together by director Renee Margocee. TFA has a program that picks Emerging Artist Fellows from around West Virginia, lifting up the work of artists coming into their own. We recently began rolling out multimedia profiles of the 2020 class of five Fellows. They’re a rich snapshot of the divergent arts scene in West Virginia. Over the next few months, WestVirginiaVille will feature each of the artists, drawn from the TFA newsletter. Here’s a portrait of Wheeling-based artist Jes Reger, from the June 30, 2020 TFA newsletter. If you’re an artist or the arts are essential to you, subscribe to the free newsletter at: Tamarackforthearts.substack.com Applications for the 2021 EA Fellows will be announced in the Fall in the newsletter. There are no age restrictions. ~ Douglas John Imbrogno
How has the pandemic and quarantine affected your work and creative output as an artist?
JES REGER: Initially, quarantine was quite nice. I had wanted to take a week or two off from teaching so I could work on some of my paintings and try new art processes … I did not realize two weeks would turn into more than a dozen!
Early quarantine productivity was fantastic; I accomplished so much in the first three weeks. After that, boredom crept in, and I had to find something else to work on. I am naturally an introverted person, so being alone and not in crowds was perfectly fine by me. But I quickly realized how important human interaction is. I missed my friends, family, and arts community. I felt slightly down and out about the whole social distancing and quarantining arrangement.
Being alone has given me time to reflect on the kind of artist I want to be.
The past couple of weeks have been better, as I have gotten to see more people and get out and about. I have spent most of my pandemic time painting, sketching, and hiking. My nature hikes became my inspiration for a series of botanical drawings depicting florals native to the Mountain State. This little side project has impacted the way I work lately. I find it relaxing to go for a hike with sketchbook in hand—there is something so soothing about nature and how it affects my artwork.
Being alone has given me time to reflect on the kind of artist I want to be. My initial goal was productivity; I was determined to pump out as many paintings as possible. Throughout the pandemic, I learned to slow down and be more observant, not just with my artwork, but also with my daily routine.
What has been the financial impact of the pandemic on the business aspect of your art production?
I would not say I am struggling financially, however, it has been stressful the last few weeks, not knowing whether I will begin teaching again in my studio. My biggest loss of income was from teaching. I have six students weekly that come to my studio for drawing and watercolor classes, and that is my largest form of income. During our “stay at home” period, I created an online platform to sell prints of my work which has really been a great help financially. As for art production, I have the supplies and funds I need to paint; framing, however, has not been as easily accomplished. My framing supplier in Pittsburgh was shut down for weeks, so I have been unable to order matte board.
It is easy to create art and social distance/stay at home. I can do that by myself. Teaching, however, is difficult to do in a tiny studio space. Hopefully soon I will be able to reopen my studio in a safe manner that protects myself and my students. I will not say it has been easy, and I would very much like to get back to normal (whatever normal will be), because I know sooner or later, bills will pile up. As for now, I am going with the flow; my mom always says “Things will fall into place,” and I am hopeful that will happen.
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
I am most looking forward to traveling in the year ahead. My goal for this year was to travel around the Mountain State and meet other artists, to learn from them and possibly create art, as well! There is something so inspiring about visiting another artist’s studio; it helps the creative juices flow.
I never realized what an impact my community has on my artistic career and well-being.
I also just really, really (did I put enough emphasis on “really”?) love West Virginia and have always wanted to spend a year traveling in and around the state. (Another goal of mine was to visit all the state parks, national historic park, state and national forests, etc.—I am currently up to eleven!) Traveling and painting/keeping a sketchbook of my travels has always been at the top of my list.
Also, I am looking forward to working with my artist community again. I never realized what an impact my community has on my artistic career and well-being. I really do miss being surrounded by amazing artists!
Do you think of who your audience is? If so, how might you describe that audience?
Yes, and no. First and foremost, I create for myself. My hope is that others will enjoy my work, as well. I would think my main audience would be nature lovers like myself and individuals who want to learn how to paint in watercolor. Many of my “watercolor peeps” find my watercolor classes at the Oglebay Institute Stifel Fine Arts Center through my artwork. It is really exciting when my audience not only enjoys my artwork, but is also inspired to create, as well. That may just be my favorite part about being an artist—when someone says, “I love your work, and now I want to learn how to paint, too.”
What artist or creative person would you love to come to appreciate or know your artwork today?
Jean Haines. I consider her my mentor and part of the reason I am where I am today. She has been such an inspiration to me, and I would love for her to see how far I have come. And Laura Horn. I love her earthy color palette and abstract style.
What words of encouragement, practical advice, or hard-won insights do you have for a fledgling artist wondering if it’s possible to turn their pleasure for art into a more serious commitment?
Firstly, go for it. What is the worst that can happen? If you love your work and love what you do, you’re golden, Ponyboy.
Never be afraid to ask for help/advice/input from established artists. More than likely, established artists have “been there, done that”. They will always have neat tips and tricks for different art processes that you will never think of yourself. They have spent hundreds of hours creating, messing up, and experimenting. And no matter how constructive their criticism is, they are always encouraging you to keep creating.
Trust me, you will mess up. You will spill something on a painting—if not that, you will end up drinking your paint water instead of your tea.
Take a business class. Probably you will still be confused about how a business works, but that is OK. (I have had my business license for three years and still have no clue what I am doing.)
Make mistakes! Trust me, you will mess up. You will ruin a painting. And you will spill something on a painting—if not that, you will end up drinking your paint water instead of your tea. Sometimes, your best work will come from a mistake. Mistakes give you the freedom to create without inhibitions. (Once you mess something up, you are less likely to worry about messing it up more.)
Keep a sketchbook.
Learn about your chosen medium. How is it made? How was it used in the past? What is unique about your medium?
Do not be discouraged if your business does not take off quickly. All good things take time.
Staying relevant and up-to-date with your work on social media is important, HOWEVER, making connections with your community/artist community is much more valuable.
Ask yourself a question about art, the creative process, the business side of art or what it’s like making a go of it as an artist— then answer it.
How do you prevent boredom in the studio?
I love watercolor, and it will always be my first choice. With that said, I do get burnt out every now and then. Keeping a sketchbook is a great way to test out techniques and different styles, and I also like to keep side projects. It is important to take breaks from my main medium, so I try to have multiple projects going at once. Currently, I am finishing up commissions, working on paintings for our TFA show, and compiling my botanical sketches to make into a coloring book.